Friday, September 13, 2013

Whatever happened to sin?


Well, my first post for the Times Colonist went live on the website yesterday.  Those of you who have looked back through these hallowed pages will have read a version of it before a few posts ago, I thought it a relatively good introduction to myself with some reflection on who we think we are and who we project ourselves to be.  But you know what it's about if you either followed the link above or read 'Who Am I?' below.
There was at the time of writing this only one comment, and it is one that has caused me much thought in the past few hours.  It was a response that said 'I see no one who needs fixing or forgiving in any way' and made a case that grace is such that we are who we are and who we are meant to be - at least that is how I read it.  Go look, see what you think and let me know.


Whilst I would identify quite strongly with a more liberal understanding of Christian faith, and would consider us to be graced rather than cursed, blessed rather than condemned, I would hesitate to say there is nothing wrong with anyone.  I don't have to travel too far from this Church building to see the effect of a broken world, broken systems, the evil (yes, I believe in evil!) of those who push drugs, or abuse others.  I don't even have to get out of my chair to encounter a person who recognises alongside a deep sense of being loved and accepted by God that he is imperfect, (to a certain degree) damaged by the bad parts of life, constantly making mistakes and not good at discerning or following the way which God might intend for my life.

So I come to God with a sense of unworthiness - my imperfection in the face of God's perfection.  It's not a case of 'O wretch that I am' (though I feel like that sometimes too) but a recognition of need, of hope, of gratitude and above all, of grace.

Grace, of course, is freely offered, and to be freely accepted.  It comes with no strings, except the ties of love to a living and gracious God.

There was a comment by a wise colleague of mine about the Church being obsessed with a model of 'Medieval sin management' - where a sense of unworthiness translates into a way of controlling the masses, making people feel unworthy in order that the priest/institution can have control over them by parcelling out forgiveness at the price of allegiance, or obedience, or money!
 This isn't what I am talking about!  I recognise that my need for healing and forgiveness can be met by God alone, with no-one else needing to mediate that.  Just as my sense of worth comes from a God who loves me and gives me life.

For me the message of grace is not that we are all alright.  But that we're not, but that is alright.

Jesus himself was deeply conscious of that need to offer forgiveness, and of the sinfulness of all people. The story of the man lowered through a roof
or a woman caught in adultery show that (though I am always shocked that the one who was the other part of that adultery gets away scott free - which is a discussion for another time).  Also, no matter how I might understand what happened on the cross, there is and has been from the beginning a link in Scripture between all that Jesus suffered and the brokenness of the world.  I am not going to open up discussion on subsitutionary atonement or penal substitution here, but sin, theThe witness of the Bible is that we do fall short of God's intention, and we are broken.  But broken does not mean worthless.

Whether we hold to a doctrine of 'original sin' or 'original blessing', it is impossible to get away from the broken and battered world in which we are placed, and the structures of oppression and injustice in which we are (often unintentionally, but sometimes deliberately) involved, complicit and/or active.  We are not, as much as I see the positive in people as much as I possibly can, perfect.  Hence I believe it an important part of our worship to learn to leave behind the weight of our imperfection and brokenness liturgically with some form of confession.  This is a discussion we will be having at our church soon!  Again, not to wallow in a mentality that always says we are bad, but that there is wrong, sin, that we need to let go of, or be healed from.  This is, I believe, the human condition.

Yes we are graced, blessed, loved, accepted and precious, but to extrapolate from that we are perfect or have no need of God's forgiveness and healing is,a limited viewpoint and not one that comes - in my understanding - even from a broad and liberal reading of the Christian Gospel.  We proclaim healing, light and life in the face of a dark world, through the power of Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection.  We don't proclaim 'don't worry. be happy'.

God forgives us.  Forgive Others.  Forgive yourself.


2 comments:

Bob MacDonald said...

Nice white fire on black. The Scriptures have been called black fire on white. One startling example of this is the suffix separated from the word by a space in Psalm 95. In English: these people wander in their hearts. In the Hebrew 'their hearts' should be one word - but it is two: levav hem. (Hem hem hem as one famous lady says). These are the stubborn hearts - the horse and mule hearts (Psalm 32).

I am glad to see this wrestling with the difficult thread of sin. Nothing makes sin more obvious than the goodness of God. And the horse and mule passage is followed by a promise: 'I will give you insight and I will instruct you'. This is the psalm used by Paul in Romans 4:7 - citing the opening of Psalm 32 - just five words in the Hebrew: אַשְׁרֵי נשְׂוּי פֶּשַׁע
כּסְוּי חֲטָאָה
Happy transgression borne-away, sin covered.

How do we get there from here? Why can we have such confidence? I said to my daughter yesterday that I have bad news for the church - I said: you really have to do the right thing. Imputed righteousness cuts only so far. My daughter then had a small accident, 1/2 a glass of red wine was spilled on me and her and the table. (The glass did not break) I fear the spilling of red wine - clothes and table linens went immediately into a salt solution and thence to the laundry. I took this as a sign not to forget Jerusalem - not to forget the blood that was spilled on my behalf - on our behalf. (Psalm 137 suggests a positive to not forgetting Jerusalem - but I wonder if we ought not to forget that comment: where else can a prophet be killed.)

I agreed immediately with my Lord and reminded him of my age(!) when I might be inclined to forget things. But I do not forget. I have died with him - and my glass is not broken. Nor do I forget when Psalm 6 struck me with full force (and there is a reminder of it in Psalm 30 vv 6-7 (7-8 Hebrew numbering), Psalm 38, and Psalm 70 - each bearing the inscription 'to remember').

So I have not forgotten the cost of the libation - but note from where I have been taught: Romans yes - but line by line from the Psalms, where the anointed has walked from early times... And of course from Torah, Prophets, and the Wisdom books like Job, Ecclesiastes, and the Song. Lots more work to do...

Bob MacDonald said...

What a day to write what you wrote. My favorite rabbi wrote this sermon for Yom Kippur today. I wonder if I should go to the Synagogue tomorrow. This sermon of course does not mention the sacrifice of Jesus - you did not raise the issue - but what can we say when the teaching is so close?